By Michael Oren
“But we love writers!” he replied to her inquiry. “Writers are some of our favorite guests.”
“Guests?” She asked.
“Well, you know, residents.”
Geraldine smirked. The derision was directed at herself for thinking she’d deserved otherwise, for hoping her iniquities might be pardoned. The hearts she’d shattered, the marriages she broke—three of them her own—and reputations she’d gratuitously sullied. The sultry woman who left Natalie only to take up with Peter and then abandoned Peter for Faraj. Children dropped like breadcrumbs behind her. Oh, the suffering she’d caused, including to herself, the guilt, and all in the name of what? Novels, plays, short stories. The anguish she believed was necessary to spur her pencil across the page—her cursor, later, the screen—the millstone that ground the poetry from her soul. Suffering had brought her distinction, anguish yielded fame. And now this, her lifetime’s achievement reward.
“But it’s everything you’ve ever wanted. A quiet office, state-of-the-art supplies, and best of all…”
“Of all?” she hazarded.
“Time! Infinite, uninterrupted time!”
Geraldine smirked again, incredulously now. She’d always worked against the clock—her editors’, her own—its face forever judging. Maybe this place wasn’t so bad after all, she considered. And since when did heaven produce literature?
Recalling that, she could almost overlook the cliché of brimstone, the hackneyed racks and thumbscrews, the shopworn cauldrons of bubbling oil. Of course, she screamed and cursed her tormentors, bled and begged for mercy. It was little worse than what she’d endured in life and was thankful for it, each agony inspiring fiction. More excruciating were the scenes they showed her: of Peter, bereft, defenestrating himself, the abandoned kids lost to drugs, and the devastating reviews she published ending her rivals’ careers.
Yet she endured it all—almost relished it—secure in the knowledge that eventually she’d be left in her room, scorched and stricken but blessedly alone, with nothing but a desk and her laptop. No editors pestering her, no fans. The walls were white and clockless.
And she wrote. She scribbled, Geraldine, she tore. Plots about families and lovers and worlds without light—all drawing on the afflictions heaped on her and those she’d inflicted on others. Entire trilogies scrolled off her computer, bildungsromane, and epics. The prose, she knew, was the best she’d ever fashioned—better, even, that the essays that won her the Zayetsky Prize—and sure to dazzle reviewers.
But there were no reviewers. No publishers or even agents. Instead, there were envelopes, there were emails and even old-fashioned telegrams, all bearing the same information. “Thank you for submitting “Who Cries for the Wildebeest?” or “We’ve now read your “Hangnail,” they began, and inevitably continued: “Unfortunately, it does not meet our present needs.”
She ripped them up, she stomped on them, and promptly went back to writing. The fires continued, the flaying, too, and even intensified, but they only stoked her imagination. Reams and bundles piled up, spilling off her desk and rising from the floor, entire bales, but so, too, did the envelopes, until finally—years or perhaps eons later—Geraldine wept.
She bawled, she yowled and implored whoever or whatever was listening to grant her another audience. It took another century or two, and reservoirs of tears, before she once again found herself in his presence.
“I see you’ve been very productive,” he congratulated her. “Brava!”
But, “I’m sorry,” was all she could cry. “I’m sorry for the cheating and the viciousness and debauchery, for everything!”
“Yes, well, that’s what they all say. Especially you writers. Quite the penitent types.”
“The torture I can deal with, even the slide shows, but I cannot take the rejections.” She was rending her clothing now, which she suddenly realized was sackcloth, and clawing at the ash on her cheeks. “I cannot bear anonymity!”
“Don’t be silly,” he chided her. “You’re positively famous.”
She managed to suppress a smile. “I am?”
“Indeed. Your output, your style. Apart from Dante, maybe, and Mailer, nobody comes close.”
“And your punctuality. Limitless.”
A taloned finger pointed to a faceless clock. “In all these ages, you’ve never turned your work in late.”
Geraldine, realizing finally, gasped, “But there is no late.” She muttered, “No early.”
“Nope, no deadlines for the dead,” he affirmed with a flourish of horns. “And for the damned,” he laughed, “eternity.”